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Some spoilers for plot in Mafia 3

Butch:

Took out the smack racket…and started selling weed…..uh, yay? Now I’m about to go kill Doucet at the amusement park I’ve driven by nine times, each time thinking “I bet there’s gonna be a big, climactic fight there.”

So yesterday brought into focus a problem with this game that I’ve had for a while:

So, a lot of times, games ask you to play as people who, in the real world, are objectively awful, evil people. Games manage to take these objectively awful people and make them into people we want to pretend to be by putting them in one of three categories:

1) The lovable, rascally (if psychotic) rogue (See Nathan Drake, Chloe Frazer, Geralt of Rivia)
2) The complicated, damaged hero (see Lara Croft, and, while he isn’t video game, Batman)
and
3) the bad guy SO bad that mayhem gets cartoonish and ridiculous and fun (see Grand Theft Auto, Payday, etc.)

This game can’t seem to go far enough on any of the three. Lincoln’s not anywhere close to the lovable rogue. That’s out. And the game can’t decide if he’s 2 or 3. He SHOULD be 2. The veteran, saw some awful stuff in the war, victim of racism, they should have gone down that road whole hog. But they didn’t. The game is called Mafia, and took stuff from GTA’s playbook. So they a) gave the story too many elements of you BEING mafia and b) gave you too much mayhem to do…and yet not enough for it to be cartoony fun.

I keep HOPING they’re going to make him complex, go down the road of the complicated hero, but they seem too into the idea of letting the player CHOOSE to make this a mayhem GTA sandbox.

So we’re left with this conundrum. He can’t be in category two, cuz he’s too BAD. Tortured heroes still want to be heroes. Lara wouldn’t sell weed, or steal people’s cars just for fun. But Lincoln? He does. And the game fails entirely to make that SEEM heroic by having his guards be all “You’re really cleaning this place up.” Really? Really NPC who is standing next to a CHURCH filled bottom to top with drugs I’m gonna sell to innocent, downtrodden people? I’m CLEANING IT UP? No. This is not hero shit.

But, he can’t be category three cuz he’s too NICE. His bad shit isn’t bad enough to get to that cartoony, almost satirical level. He didn’t kill the guy Cassandra had tied up. He made his brothel all nice. He’s a drug dealer, sure, but one who sells NICE drugs. In GTA, king of the mayhem sandboxes, you played as a METH dealer who just killed the fuck out of everyone and had a tattoo on his neck that said “cut here.” So when you did all the crazy shit in the game it worked, cuz of COURSE you were batshit. Here, Lincoln’s too believable, so when he steals an old lady’s car, it’s not cartoony. It’s just icky.

Now, when this game was being made, I watched some of the lead writers saying that they wanted player freedom. The slogan of the company is “Every player’s story is different” or something. We often get stuff like “You’re done with a game when you don’t play it anymore” or “a game is all about how you experience it” and NO. Too much freedom, too much given to a player like WHEN it ends, making all about what a PLAYER does means there’s NO NARRATIVE.

Games like this THINK they’re giving the player a big box of digital LEGOs and saying “Now go build your dreams!” But they aren’t. There are characters and mechanics and everything. There’s SOME of the developer’s vision but it’s underdone, incomplete. So what they do is they give the player a box of LEGOs, but a lot of them don’t fit together, some are permanently stuck together, and you can’t really build anything nice, let alone what you want to build.

Build it for me, game. Let me look at the finished product.

Ok, rant over.

Feminina:

I haven’t actually smuggled any weed, because I can’t figure out how. The guy was all “just take the boat and head out” but I couldn’t drive the boat that was there. Must be some other boat, but where is it? And where do I take it to? I couldn’t find any icons on the map for it.

So I basically said “whatever” and went to kill smack dealers instead. Even though running weed would increase my ‘earn’!

Whatever. I never buy anything anyway.

The amusement park was an interesting level. Creepy and sneaky and sort of surreally weird. The amusement park setting lets them throw in some very odd imagery that is pretty interesting to wander through. And there’s violence, of course. Not technically mayhem since no one actually cuts off and carries away a body part that I recall, but plenty of murder.

Enjoy!

I see what you’re saying about Lincoln. He’s definitely not cartoonishly-bad-for-the-sake-of badness, reveling in his murders. Except sort of as part of his vengeance thing, but the rest of the murders, those are definitely just things he happens to have to do along the way.

And no, he’s not a charming rogue, he’s too serious for that. His entire motivation is slow, gruesome revenge, and that’s not roguish.

As you say, he fits best in the complicated, dark and damaged category. He’s tough, good looking, a deadly trained killer, has a badass scar…and driven entirely by revenge! I don’t know, I feel like it works OK.

I mean, I get you, Lara Croft wouldn’t sell weed, but she did plenty of other random side jobs, like blowing up signal towers and burning commie propaganda (I think of her often when Lincoln finds one of those collectibles). I don’t know if he’s doing outrageous amounts of stuff on the side, the difference is obviously that he’s doing illegal crime stuff on the side, and that’s kind of required when your game is called Mafia.

So maybe the main concern is that it’s not really possible to make a semi-sympathetic complicated hero whose business is crime, because that’s inherently just not terribly sympathetic.

I mean, we have our share of problems with Nathan Drake and Lara Croft and their casual destruction of priceless ancient artifacts and unique societies, but at least their main goal (treasure hunting!) is one we can basically understand, and their process (go through everything to get to the treasure!) is not necessarily obviously wrong.

Whereas a lot of criminal enterprises are just kind of obviously…not good for a lot of people. Although obviously they ARE good for enough people. And now we’re one of those people!

Butch:

What? I haven’t even been asked to do that. I just strolled around my church dope warehouse smiling cuz I knew I was cleaning up the neighborhood by killing dudes and packing a rather lovely church with drugs, cuz they’re better drugs than bad drugs.

Way to go me!

I shall enjoy. And yes, fairs are de facto creepy. I hate fairs.

As for the character rant…Yes….but…. the revenge isn’t all that fleshed out. And what he’s doing runs counter to it. If you just want to kill the baddies, why start a prostitution/drug empire along the way? You could damage it to weaken them. Batman wouldn’t, like, take over penguin’s crime waves to weaken joker. He’d just fuck everyone up. Wiping out crime in New Orleans (I’m not saying Bordeaux) to get back at the baddies makes more sense. You could put that up against a backdrop of the bad things he did in Veit Nam just fine and it would work. But this? He’s not, apparently, ENTIRELY driven by revenge, cuz he sure makes time to make money.

And, one of the barbs critics (and the public) threw at this was “Why is this a Mafia game?” Apparently, the original mafia games were in the “Do really bad things cuz you know you want to” category. You were bad cuz bad is fun. Always wanted to see what it’s like to be an actual gangster? Play Mafia! And when this came out, a game with something to say, people were all “Ok…why not call it something else, then?” They could have done that, and avoided having to cram stuff in cuz the game is called “mafia.”

It’s a key difference in approach. Drake and Lara never really hurt anyone but Kevin, and Kevin was trying to kill them. You get into a crime racket, you’re hurting innocent people. Maybe you don’t kill them like Kevin (unless you’re you and you drive), but selling them drugs and pimping them out isn’t very nice. You’re hurting innocents. PROFITING from hurting innocents. The only thing Lara and Drake did that hurt innocents was depriving them of the chance to see something in a museum. Hardly as bad. And Chloe didn’t even do that! And I don’t WANT to hurt innocents in a game!

Feminina:

It’s true, I don’t play games to hurt innocents. I was leery of a game called Mafia because in fact I DON’T actually want to know what it’s like to be in the mob! I like to be NICE to people in games. That’s why I always try to find all their great-grandfathers’ missing handaxes!

Everyone must love meeeeeeee!!!!!

I’m enjoying this game a lot more than I expected because it’s possible to downplay the crime-and-hurting-innocents aspects, at least in my own head. At least when I’m not accidentally running them over.

But you’re right, you can’t completely ignore the fact that we’re working on building a thriving criminal empire, and that’s…tricky.

Butch:

It is tricky, that it is. And we DON’T play hurtful games. It’s one of the reasons we shy away from otherwise popular games like GTA.

I AM still enjoying this game more than I thought I would.

But, gotta say, not feeling very nice, and I’m ready for some degree of variety here. Been a lot of similar stuff these last couple days.

Feminina:

Hm…I may have bad news, because there’s a lot of pretty similar stuff in this game. I mean, it’s all about taking over a bunch of rackets by killing a bunch of people, right? It’s kind of the same thing in different territories. With some occasional Driving Like a Maniac thrown in.

And lots of collectibles.

Butch:

Hmm. That was the knock on it.

But you’re still into it?

Feminina:

Yeah, I’m having fun sneaking around murdering dudes. Occasionally driving, but I drive mostly to get from place to place in my ongoing quest to bust up rackets so I can replace them with my own rackets. Not bored yet.

Mr. O’, watching over my shoulder, said “maybe I’ll play this!”

It’s a good time. If you enjoy sneaking around murdering dudes.

And let’s face it, who among us does not?

Butch:

Mr. O is just in it for the…um….collectibles.

Driving at least has great songs. And the ads are accurate, says my dad!

I’ll take that.

Feminina:

The music is good. I admit I’ve occasionally driven around longer than necessary, or just sat in the car for a minute after parking, in order to get to the end of a song.

Just like in real life!